Saturday, June 25, 2016

Pokhara

The 3rd day in Nepal had us heading from Kathmandu to Pokhara (Nepal) by bus on June 24th. The trip there was soooo crazy. How crazy you ask? Well, in Celtic logic, it could be described as a 200-km journey that took 400 km!

At first, it was a horn blaring, bumper to bumper, stop and go, bumpy narrow road as we climbed out of Kathmandu to a high pass.

Colourful transports

Then back down again along a road cut into the steep side slopes with no let up in congestion. The scenery after the pass was beautiful. We were tracing our way through foot mountains of the Himalayas. Verdant steep slopes covered terraced paddies and grow plots along with the humble tenant shacks that speckled the mountain walls as far as you could see.

Traffic block a kilometre ahead

Once down in the valley, the going got faster and the traffic eased a bit as we flew through little towns and settlements and along the streams and rivers, some raging with churning rapids.

Arriving in Pokhara after about 7 hours, we again were met with hotel pickup, and 5 minutes later, we were checked in (Hotel Family Home) with the same effusive manner as in Kathmandu. We had time to clean up and take a late afternoon/evening stroll along the lakeside path where we dined till dark to the enjoyable sounds of a local band.

Tranquil lakeside twilight

Overnight, we heard it rain and the next day began by threatening us with more of the stuff but by noon it mostly cleared. So we rented a classic Royal Enfield motorcycle and headed for some adventure riding in higher elevation with the hope of seeing that part of the Himalayas known as the Annapurna Mountain range.

We climbed out of Pokhara into the thinning air along a rough narrow road, through mud and over boulders, looking for a view point. At the best high vantage point, the majestic Annapurna range kept itself almost totally cloaked in clouds teasing us with only glimpses of its mighty peaks here and there.

Peaking peaks

We continued past peaceful villages where the children were playing, farmers were busy with their water buffalo plowing the rice paddies in the shadows of their meek homes, and men and women were packing large backloads of greenery in bamboo baskets.

Heavy load

With waning light, we reluctantly descended on switchbacks that would bring us back to civilization.

Mountain village

Thursday, June 23, 2016

NEPAL

After 6 weeks of somewhat major refinishing to pretty up Sea Turtle, we stood back to admire her new do. That was when out of the corner of our eye we noticed a red blemish. It was on the calendar though, and it was on June 22nd, marking a deadline. Want to make 3 months of rainy season move fast? Put a dot on the calendar 3 months away!

The date marked our Thai Visa expiry. It required a "Visa run". So, where to go? We could either make a quick 1-day run to a border and return, or make it a more worthwhile venture. For the latter, we revisited our land travel bucket list and chose Nepal, hoping to beat the monsoon season for that area.

Checking online flight options, we splurged and went for "cattle class". It would be Phuket to Kathmandu via Kuala Lumpur for an 8-day adventure into the bosoms of the Himalayas.

Upon evening arrival, our pre-booked hotel (De Hotel Veda) had a cab waiting and whooshed us off through the frenetic traffic as Bob Seager's song rang through my head "...K-K-K-K-K, Katmandu, I think it's really where I'm going to, If I ever get out of here, I'm goin' to Katmandu..."

The effusive greeting by our hotel host, complete with the bow and head wiggle, had us wondering if we were in the remake of the movie "The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel". With his help, we planned our next day for sites of Kathmandu.

Second day in Nepal: After a delicious early morning breakfast, our pre-arranged car and driver had us off to our first stop, the Monkey Temple, perched on a ridge on the hillside slopes overlooking the spiralling valley of the City of Kathmandu.

The site invited us up about 100 steps to the top and to a motley jumble of ancient buildings and shrines with their wafting incense, craft and souvenier vendors chorusing "Come, just look", and of course, scavenging monkeys, all under the ubiquitous prayer flags fluttering in the breeze.

Curios for the curious

Temple architecture

Here we saw the first up-close effects of the aggressive earthquake that rocked the area a little over a year ago. One of the old temple buildings had broken up and looked as if you took the bottom brick out, the whole thing would probably complete a total collapse.

Quake's result

The following 2 stops were very similar and both set in the mayhem of Kathmandu. They were ancient royal palace centers with their nucleus being the old royal brick buildings with intricately carved wood facets set amidst distinctly Buddhist or Hindu temples scattered around.

Royal city in Kathmandu

At 1 building, our guide ushered us into a dingy courtyard where we witnessed the spectacle of the living child goddess Kumari, where after being called, she was, in all seriousness, quietly presented for viewing for a few moments in an upper window. No pictures allowed - following was copied from our guidebook.

Child goddess

The status of Kumari is similar to the Dali Llama. Devout believers chose her at a young age through test rituals that, to them, showed she was a living goddess and from then on till the time of puberty, she would live a life almost exclusively within the residence tended to by devout caregivers at her beck and call. She could only leave for festivals, rituals, etc. at which time her feet would never touch the ground. A unique kind of "You're grounded!" After her term, she would return to her real family and normal life and remain totally celibate for the rest of her life.

It was here at these old royal sites that the most obvious and most severe earthquake damage was evident. The Buddhist pagodas fared the worst. Some had completely collapsed in utter ruins, the debris long since removed.

Our first days saw no sign of the monsoons. So far so good!

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Finishing up

Our stay at the Phuket Boat Lagoon was extended longer than originally planned due to frequent rain. The lightning storms were fascinating to watch and we were fortunate that Sea Turtle took no hits.

Once the interior refinishing of the boat was completed, we began to reload her when it wasn't raining. And the workmen continued to struggle trying to finish the exterior whenever it was dry enough out.

Poor planning or global warning - ankle-deep water on walkway!

We had some leisure time and visited a new floating market filled with all sorts of shops. The exterior grounds had an interesting display of several metre-high clay monks in sitting positions with their arms wrapped around growing trees. It will be even more impressive as the trees get large.


With work finally completed, we were able to depart from Boat Lagoon on June 15th and head back to Chalong Bay where we once again set anchor.